by Frank Sietzen "SpaceCast News Service"
Washington, DC - July 8, 1997 - The whole world went to Mars this weekend, and nobody was happier than Daniel S. Goldin. The NASA Administrator literally has bet the future of his civil space agency on producing cheaper space missions, reduced manpower levels, and advanced technology without the responsibility for mission operations for such budget eaters as the shuttle - and just possibly the space station, too.
The Mars Pathfinder was perhaps the most visible of the space chief's "faster, better, cheaper" missions in which low cost probes are sent to gather data from destinations in the solar system once the territory of larger, more complex spacecraft. Goldin's philosophy has been that it's better to send a robot with a few instruments today than wait for decades for the funding to support launching more purposeful craft.
The only problem with such a view, critics have argued, is that cheaper doesn't mean necessarily better. And that more complex spacecraft just might be a better value. Goldin, though, has seen his agency's budget shrink nearly 40% in five years, so he could reasonably argue that the funds for more advanced craft will in fact never be forthcoming, from either this Congress or this administration. The success of the Pathfinder will now give Goldin a stronger hand in dealing with a growingly recalcitrant Congress threatening to impose increasingly complex reportage requirements over the Russian participation in the International Space Station. He has resisted these moves, and the heat on Capitol Hill has been rising on the generally popular space chief.
And the administration finds itself wedded to the administrator that it desperately tried to dump back in 1993. Goldin, however, knew that the key to his survival was taking the administration's policy and bending the agency to fit -a move that some have said has cost NASA jobs, area competence, and capabilities that it may never get back. The agency in fact is now about the size it was in May, 1961 when Kennedy embarked upon the Apollo path. Goldin says that the size is about right, given today's political climate. Sending a robot the size of a suitcase to Mars may just show the political world that, in this climate, size doesn't matter if you get the job done.
by Japan Space Net correspondent Paul Kallender
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